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Saturday, March 9, 2024

‘Birdeater’ SXSW Review – A Nail-Biting Deconstruction of Identity and Abuse

A blurred image of a Wake in Fright poster in an early shot in Birdeater cuts right to the heart of directors Jack Clark and Jim Weir’s feature debut, a hat tip to the style and tone of madness ahead. Like Ted Kotcheff’s 1971 classic thriller, Birdeater utilizes horror and thriller mechanics and tropes to deconstruct Australia’s masculine identity, one at odds with today’s sociopolitical landscape, through a contemporary lens. While it doesn’t push the genre elements far enough, its heady themes, sustained dread, and distinct visual language culminate in a tense psychodrama that poses compelling questions.

The signs that something’s deeply amiss in the relationship between engaged couple Irene (Shabana Azeez) and Louie (Mackenzie Fearnley) come fast and furious from the outset. Codependency issues and controlling behavior bubble just beneath the surface of their seemingly idyllic romance. Before filmmakers Clark, who wrote the script, and Weir can pull back the curtain to reveal more, the assertive Louie persuades meek Irene to accompany him to his bucks weekend party in the woods. There, the soon-to-be-wedded couple are joined by Louie’s volatile pal Dylan (Ben Hunter), sometimes devout Christian friend Charlie (Jack Bannister), Charlie’s fiancé Grace (Clementine Anderson), wildcard pal Murph (Alfie Gledhill), and Irene’s old friend Sam (Harley Wilson). But pre-wedding celebrations quickly run off the rails to an alarming degree when uncomfortable truths about Louie and Irene’s relationship are exposed.

Birdeater cast

Clark and Weir masterfully keep their audience on edge as they slowly peel back discomforting layers of this motley group of erstwhile partyers. Louie is never depicted as physically abusive or violent, yet there’s an underlying air of menace to him all the same. Fearnley deftly toggles between love bombing and menacing, controlling behaviors that paint a stark picture of abuse, albeit of an emotional and psychological type, made worse by the peculiar social dynamics of this quirky friend group amidst a drug-fueled bachelor weekend. The filmmakers employ horror tactics to instill palpable tension, then heighten it the more Louie’s bad behaviors get ignored or enabled by everyone.

Clark and Weir create an impressive juggling act here as the tension escalates and psychological states deteriorate, all to illustrate the ways in which toxicity can thrive unchecked. In this case, the care and precision in setting up the friendships and histories here suggest class plays a pivotal role in allowing bad behavior to run amok. The less sober the group becomes, the more intense things grow, exposing buried secrets, trauma, and infighting. Ben Anderson’s editing serves the film well in tone and visual flair. A pivotal reveal gets peppered with rapid cuts of cartoon imagery that drives home the darkly comedic, dangerous, and unhinged nature of the ill-fated Buck party.

Birdeater sxsw 2024

The filmmakers take Birdeater right up to the line of snowballing into full-blown horror, as drunken revelry threatens to explode into surrealism, but use restraint to prevent the horror techniques from distracting from the insidious rot at the center of Louie and Irene’s codependency. More impressively, that restraint extends to Birdeaters’ themes of abuse and masculine identity in Australia. For such lofty questions asked, Clark and Weir refuse to offer any tidy answers or conclusions. The film’s breathless closing moments pack an emotional wallop that leaves you grappling with feelings of trepidation, hope, and uncertainty.

Birdeater is an audacious reckoning with identity told through a relatable scenario gone very wrong. Borrowing a page from Wake in Fright, Clark and Weir’s feature debut examines heady concepts through confident filmmaking and subversion of tropes through horror techniques. The pair take care in their approach to tackling delicate topics like abusive relationships and wisely opt to expose that abuse doesn’t have to be physical to be bone-chillingly destructive. That restraint makes for a compelling, nail-biting watch, even if it never wholly veers into horror.

Birdeater made its international premiere at SXSW. Release info TBD.

3.5 out of 5

The post ‘Birdeater’ SXSW Review – A Nail-Biting Deconstruction of Identity and Abuse appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/reviews/3801272/birdeater-sxsw-review-australian-thriller/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=birdeater-sxsw-review-australian-thriller

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